Children under 5 more vulnerable to Covid-19 and severe illness than older kids: Janil Puthucheary
SINGAPORE – Children under the age of five are more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection and more likely to have severe outcomes than older kids, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament on Monday (Aug 1).
He said that children under the age of five are the last group in Singapore that is not protected by vaccination, and the Ministry of Health (MOH) is preparing to start vaccination for them around the fourth quarter of this year.
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) is currently reviewing data submitted by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna on their vaccines for those in this age group, he added.
Children from five to 11 years old have been offered the Pfizer-BioNTech/ Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine since Dec 27 last year.
Those aged 12 and above have been able to book their vaccination appointments since June 11 last year.
On Monday, Dr Janil highlighted that the overall incidence of severe outcomes from Covid-19 infection remains lower among children compared with the elderly.
“Children needing medical attention should be seen by a general practitioner or polyclinic if unwell,” said Dr Janil, who was responding to questions from several Members of Parliament on Covid-19 treatment and vaccination plans for children.
Dr Janil said that he was saddened by the recent deaths of two young children from the coronavirus, and offered condolences to their families.
He added that data has shown the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants have not been observed to affect children more severely than past variants, and that severe infection continues to be rare in children, especially among those who are vaccinated.
He noted that for children aged five to 11, a third dose of an mRNA vaccine may be necessary at some point to keep their protection levels high.
He added that MOH is preparing to roll out vaccination booster doses for this age group in about two months’ time.
Dr Janil said that currently, children with acute respiratory infections are tested using antigen rapid tests or polymerase chain reaction tests, and that those under three months old are admitted to hospital by default whereas older children under the Home Recovery Programme are reviewed by doctors via telemedicine, a service which is available round the clock.
“Our hospitals continue to prioritise care for children with urgent medical conditions and those who require further observation and treatment will be admitted,” said Dr Janil, adding that oral antivirals are licensed for use under the HSA’s Pandemic Special Access Route only for patients aged 18 and above.
The Government will continue to review the evidence for the use of oral antivirals for those aged below 18, said Dr Janil, adding that Paxlovid may be used on a case-by-case basis for those aged 12 to 18.
He said: “We’ll continue to monitor the incidence of severe illness and deaths due to Covid-19 closely and adjust our processes to protect our healthcare system and our patients. We ask everyone to take the necessary precautions and remain socially responsible.”